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Syria: Kurds; SNC Criticized; Tlas; Aleppo – OpEd


The criticism of Manaf Tlass by both the opposition and regime supporters raises a few important features of this revolution.

  1. The opposition have criticized every leader that has emerged without giving them even a moment’s honey moon period. This is most true of their own leaders such as Ghalioun and Basset. Manaf Tlass is easy to criticize because he worked at the heart of the regime for two decades.
  2. Much of Syria’s middle and upper classes have not been heard from yet. many of them may find someone like Manaf Tlass appealing – perhaps not someone so close to the regime, but someone who had a hand in the regime, is secular, has money, has experience with the army, etc.
  3. We are now hearing from Syria’s opposition and rebel commanders, but most middle and upper class Syrians have yet to raise their voices. They cannot speak so long as the Assad regime endures. But when the regime falls and they do find their voice, they are likely to be suspicious of the many militia commanders now holding sway. They will look to people who had some connection to the regime and whom they will trust not to be vengeful against them or against the wealth of the monied classes.
  4. It is easy to forget how many Syrians have been complicit with this regime in some way over the last four decades. Most Syrians want dramatic changes. But many may have found Tlass’s words rejecting revenge reassuring. His message that Syria must protect its national institutions and avoid destroying them, etc. were designed to reassure the silent majority that have yet to articulate their concerns and interests.

Aron Lund on the Kurdish situation in Syria


For Syria Comment

The Kurdish action on the ground in Syria is almost all-PYD units, i.e. the PKK’s Syrian wing. They’ve had an ambiguous relationship to the regime, but now seem to have moved firmly into the opposition camp, set on dominating the Kurdish scene. It’s an impressively disciplined and effective group, but totally committed to its own agenda, and absolutely ruthless in carrying it out. I have a section on them in my report on the Syrian opposition, which provides some further background, here.

The recent Erbil alliance between the PYD and the Kurdish National Council (KNC = almost all other Syrian-Kurdish groups) is less an ideological alliance, rather it is basically a function of the latters’ weakness. The PKK/PYD was always the single-strongest group, and it has been growing rapidly during the uprising. It has infiltrated hundreds or possibly thousands of armed members from Iraq/Turkey into northern Syria, and used harsh tactics to suppress rivals, while also long avoiding confrontations with the regime during its build-up phase. Since winter, PYD “popular protection committes” (lijan el-himaya el-shaabiya) have been setting up checkpoints and conducting armed patrols in their traditional areas of influence (Kobane, Afrin, Sheikh Maqsoud and other areas of Aleppo). In the past months they’ve also begun to pop up in Qamishli and other areas where the PYD is considered traditionally weaker. These groups have by now established themselves as the strongest de facto power on the ground in many Kurdish areas.

The regime tolerated this at first, perhaps after some under-the-table deal or perhaps for lack of better options, but now it seems to have been squeezed out by the PYD, and is unable or unwilling to spend manpower fighting back. The other Kurdish groups have also gradually toned-down their criticism of the PYD, which they all tend to secretly hate, and now apparently see no choice but to jump on the bandwagon. So, formally, the Kurdish alliance is a united Kurdish front, but for now, the PYD is clearly in the driving seat. (The deal was struck with Barzani/KRG sponsorship i Erbil, so funding or support from northern Iraq may help other factions preserve some leverage vis-à-vis the PYD, but I can’t see that it would tip the scales.) Formally they’re going to divide power in the local councils 50-50, but I’ll believe that when I see it.


Unless the Erbil alliance breaks apart, which it might, or the regime moves back in, which I doubt it will, these developments should also firmly remove the Kurdish community from the Western-backed SNC/FSA alliance. The PYD is extremely hostile to the SNC due to its Turkish sponsorship, and this might have interesting implications for Kurdish relations with the FSA as well. On the other hand, I guess all sides will be interested in finding some kind of modus vivendi…

The big question is of course how far the PYD will want to push their dominance, given the risk of a backlash internally or externally; ow much tolerance will they ave for other political forces in the long run, and how will Turkey respond to de facto PKK control over Syrian border cities? All this talk about “safe zones” and “humanitarian corridors” strikes me as at least partly being Istanbul’s preferred euphemism for preserving the right to unilaterally intervene in northern Syria and rearrange the balance of forces. But we’ll see…

For all Syrian-Kurdish issues, of course, I recommend, an absolutely invaluable resource.

Syria Comment - Joshua Landis

Joshua Landis maintains Syria Comment and teaches modern Middle Eastern history and politics and writes on Syria and its surrounding countries. He writes “Syria Comment,” a daily newsletter on Syrian politics that attracts some 3,000 readers a day. It is widely read by officials in Washington, Europe and Syria. Dr. Landis regularly travels to Washington DC to consult with the State Department and other government agencies. He is a frequent analyst on TV and radio.

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